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Paper-thin Walls

Andy Storey
The Globalist: Peter Sutherland: His Life and Legacy, by John Walsh, William Collins, 336 pp, £25, ISBN: 978-0008327613 Peter Sutherland was a wealthy lawyer who became Ireland’s youngest attorney general (in a Fine Gael-led government). He then served as Ireland’s EU commissioner before taking the reins at the organisations responsible for the governance of global trade. Towards the end of his life he became an advocate for the rights of migrants. He mixed that career of public “service” with lucrative commercial positions – for, among others, Allied Irish Bank, Goldman Sachs, Royal Bank of Scotland and British Petroleum. His biographer, John Walsh, rightly describes Sutherland as “among the most influential powerbrokers of the last thirty years or so”. Unfortunately, Walsh’s inability or unwillingness to seriously grapple with Sutherland’s exercise of that power causes the reader to veer between exasperation and, all too often, frustrated laughter. My own favourite “joke” is the claim that Sutherland had reservations about a 2003 deal between British Petroleum (BP, of which he was then chairman) and a Moscow consortium on the grounds that “the separation between the public and private realms in Russia was paper thin”. This comes after extensive discussion of why, above all else, Sutherland was courted by the US and European private sector: it was, by the open admission of all concerned, precisely because of his contacts in the world of politics and public policy-making more broadly. A former colleague at Goldman Sachs described Sutherland as having a “golden Rolodex”. In other words, the ability to straddle the public and private realms was precisely what made Sutherland a “catch” for large corporations, and it was also what made him extremely wealthy along the way. Sutherland was hardly alone in his enthusiasm for the revolving door between business and politics. Hank Paulson, for example, is quoted extensively in Walsh’s book: he headed Goldman Sachs while Sutherland worked there, before he (Paulson) took up the job of US treasury secretary during the presidency of George W Bush, in which capacity he was instrumental in ensuring that the banks (including Goldman Sachs) got bailed out by the government. Paulson himself is quoted as saying that a “good number of former [Goldman Sachs] partners have gone back and forth” between the corporate and public sector worlds. Paper-thin separations, anyone? Instead of treating such vital issues with the attention they merit, Walsh’s book constantly veers towards the…



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